We tire of Douglas Rushkoff

We’re already pretty tired of Douglas Rushkoff (previous kvetch-o-rama), and now he goes and tops himself.

In the Guardian, he yammers on endlessly about some kind of abstract self-censorship that we’re not following at all. Two or three thousand words into this tome, we finally locate some “content,” not that it makes any sense.

The Internet’s functional standards are set by companies like Microsoft, through processes that are anything but transparent. Participating in the Internet through a Web browser is like experiencing the outdoors through a screen door. Our choices are filtered, and our participation is limited to typing in our credit card numbers and clicking Buy.

You tell ’em, Doug! “The Internet’s functional standards” are of course “set by companies like Microsoft,” and not in fact by bodies like the World Wide Web Consortium and the Internet Engineering Task Force, among several others. But thanks for clearing up our misconceptions. We were under the impression that the interoperability of the net was due to widespread coöperation, not domination by a single juggernaut. (We are quite aware of Microsoft’s damaging nonstandard products, but that’s a footnote.)

Viewing the Web through a Web browser is about as limiting as measuring voltage with a voltmeter. Using a browser as an MP3 player, a mail program (Microsoft Hotmail 666), or an FTP “client” works rather less well.

But why is he so upset?

Artists indirectly censor themselves by using programs like Adobe Photoshop to create graphics, Dreamweaver to design Web pages, or Macromedia Director to make interactive environments. Most university courses, understandably, teach students how to use such software (often made by their own donors) rather than how to recognize its underlying agendas. Students graduate with a fine understanding of the media landscape, but haven’t a clue that it was assembled quite arbitrarily.

Oh, for Gosh sakes. Photoshop doesn’t have an agenda. It isn’t a newspaper or a television network. It is tenuous at best to describe Photoshop as part of the “media landscape.” By that reasoning, aren’t camcorders and typewriters part of the media landscape? Is this Brezhnev-era Moscow, where the ruling party controls the means of reproduction and an entire samizdat underground flourished by necessity? Or are we dealing with a technically complex communications infrastructure that requires similarly complex software to get it to work at a highly-optimized professional level?

Why is he so upset?

And in any event, had Rushkoff done a little research he would have noted that kooky Dutch type designers Just van Rossum and Erik van Blokland, of LettError fame (they gave us Trixie, among other faces), made the same observation about a milieu where Photoshop really does constrain the range of possible expression: Typography, graphic design, and illustration. Except Just and Erik did it in 1997:

Their first message was a criticism of the design profession – that designers unwittingly limit their imaginations to what the existing software, etc., can actually do (the ToolHorizon). Hence, to use their terminology and the << characters in their original sense of “much less than,” ToolSpace << IdeaSpace. Erik: “We basically allow some programmer in Silicon Valley, who’s maybe doing his best, to make some decisions for us. ... You can do a million different things with Photoshop, but they will always be things you’ve done with Photoshop.”

We believe Photoshop has a greater influence on print design than online design:

One more time: Why is Rushkoff so upset?

Posted on 2000-10-08